Abstract: Low-Wage Workers' Perceptions of Their Union: Variation within Unionized Workers (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

233P Low-Wage Workers' Perceptions of Their Union: Variation within Unionized Workers

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jihee Woo, MSW, PhD Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Jeffrey Shook, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Sara Goodkind, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Although unions have been in decline in the United States for the past three decades, they remain one of the major sources of support to address the well-being of low-wage workers in the workplace. The literature is replete with studies examining the impact of unionization on work-related outcomes by comparing unionized workers to their non-unionized counterparts. Early works on the effect of unions on a variety of outcomes including workers’ job satisfaction have documented that unionized workers are less satisfied with their jobs than their non-unionized counterparts. More recent work, however, has challenged the finding that unions are negatively correlated with workers' job satisfaction and has documented tangible economic benefits for unionized workers. Meanwhile, variation within union members is often overlooked. This study aims to address this gap by examining variation within union members’ perceptions and experiences.

Methods: Data are from the first wave of a mixed-methods longitudinal study examining the effects of raising wages of low-wage workers on their hardships and well-being. Our analyses include 165 service workers completing online surveys and 38 completing in-depth interviews focused on their perceptions of the effects of the union. For quantitative analyses, logistic regression was used with workers’ perceptions of the union (i.e., the union has made them stay in their job, feel more respected, have more pride, want to work harder, and feel happier about work) as the dependent variable and raises, amount of wage increase, and other work-related characteristics and demographics as independent variables. In-depth interviews were inductively coded and analyzed using NVivo 12.

Results: Quantitative analysis revealed that those who received a recent raise (OR=6.02, p<.01) and indicated increased levels of happiness of coworkers (OR=3.31, p<.01) were more likely to perceive positive impacts of the union on their work. Further, those who reported increased concerns about money were less likely to perceive that the union made them have more pride (OR=.44,p<.05) and feel happier about their work (OR=.39, p<.01). Qualitative analysis supported some of these findings in that a raise was significantly related to workers’ positive perceptions of the union. It further illustrated what impacts workers perceived the union made to their work and workplace. Enhanced communication enabled workers to give more input to the decision-making process. Additionally, workers felt more protected as their issues in the workplace were handled by the union. Negative views of the union were also reported among those who did not observe tangible positive economic consequences of the union’s efforts in proportion to union dues.  

Conclusions and Implications: This study suggests that tangible benefits such as wage increases can make a notable and visible difference to workers’ perceptions of the union. Additionally, a better sense of protection, changes in communication, and positive coworkers may also induce workers’ positive perceptions, thereby enhancing their well-being in the workplace. Social workers’ effective coalitions with unions can play an integral role in addressing inequality, affording low-wage workers more power and voice, and promoting the well-being of low-wage workers and their families.